Justice court undergoing $17K renovation after town settles lawsuit

The Riverhead justice court will be undergoing a renovation. (Credit: Paul Squire file)
The Riverhead justice court will be undergoing a renovation. (Credit: Paul Squire file)

Riverhead Town will be revamping its justice court in coming weeks after the town, as well as four other East End municipalities, settled with the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County over the terms of a lawsuit alleging subpar court conditions — conditions that were alleged to have violated the constitutional rights of defendants on trial there.

In a lawsuit filed in February, the Legal Aid Society had claimed that several justice courts on the East End — including those in Southampton Town, Riverhead Town, Southold Town, as well as Sag Harbor and Southampton Villages — violated the fifth and sixth amendment rights of those charged with crimes there since inadequate space existed for attorneys to conference with their clients on site.

“In the grand scheme of things, this was settled quickly,” said Sabato Caponi. “So that speaks well for them.”

The suit had claimed that by not allowing a private space for defendants, “a real and present evil” existed, since information meant to be said in confidence to an attorney could — if heard by a prosecutor, for instance — be used against the individual. One plaintiff had claimed that had, in fact, happened in Sag Harbor’s court.

Riverhead will not only be creating a room near the justice court for private use, but while the town is at it, will be renovating much of the dated justice court itself.

When he was reviewing the state of the justice court in the wake of the lawsuit, Supervisor Sean Walter said he was “distraught” with what he saw.

“It looks like Hempstead District Court,” he said, referring to the folding fabric chairs and carpet. “So with a new justice coming into office, I figured we would put some new spit shine on it.”

The work is expected to cost around $17,000 in total. In addition to a new room on the side of the court for clients to meet privately with their attorneys, all of the chairs will be ripped out and replaced with oak benches. New carpet will be put down throughout the court as well.

According to Mr. Caponi, the terms of the settlement state that the court upgrades must be complete by the end of April.